Thursday 29 April 2010

Preview: True Crime with Aphrodite Jones - The Michael Jackson Trial

Aphrodite Jones's Michael Jackson documentary hasn't even aired yet and already the media is gunning for it. The documentary, which aims to highlight slanted media reporting about the allegations against Jackson, has already been dismissed by New York Daily News as a 'love letter' to the star. Meanwhile, South Coast Daily News says it is unobjective because the interviewees are 'a parade of former Jackson managers and retainers'.

The latter comment in particular is both untrue and unfair. Firstly, the show's interviewees include two of the jurors from Jackson's trial, a criminal defense expert and Jones herself. None of these people knew Jackson and they certainly weren't on his payroll.

Secondly, the idea that a documentary about Michael Jackson should be dismissed as unreliable because the talking heads actually knew him is beyond ludicrous. The clear inference is that the documentary would somehow be more reliable if half of the screen time was dedicated to people who never met Jackson speculating wildly about his private life. This is patently absurd.

Having arrived home today and found an advance screening DVD of the show on my doormat, I thought I would post a preview/review ahead of tonight's airing.


The show begins with Jackson's death on June 25th last year, with Jones positing that while the star was technically killed by acute propofol intoxication, his death had been a sad inevitability. His spirit was crushed, she argues, by bogus allegations about his relationships with children and the way in which the media had misrepresented them. "Jackson never came back from his trial," Jones says in publicity materials. "He died trying."

The audience is transported back to 1993 and taken through the first set of allegations levelled against Jackson. Much time is dedicated to the controversial settlement of the civil suit brought by Jordan Chandler's parents. That settlement, Jones suggests, is the primary cause of many people's reservations about Jackson.

Former Jackson manager Frank Dileo says that Jackson was tricked into the settlement by business advisors more interested in the star's earning power than his public image. Thomas Mesereau, who represented Jackson in his 2005 trial, adds that the settlement also set a precedent for anybody wishing to extort money from Michael Jackson, sending the message that he was an easy target. It created an attitude, he says: 'Why work when you can just sue Michael

It was Jackson's concern over the impact of the settlement on his public image, Jones claims, that inspired him to let Martin Bashir into his inner sanctum. Seduced by Bashir's promise that his documentary would centre on Jackson's quest to achieve an International Children's Holiday, the star gave Bashir unprecedented access to his life in the hope that it would vindicate him of the 1993 child abuse allegations. But Bashir manipulated the footage in order to advance his own career, Jones says. Bashir ended up crossing the pond to work as a news anchor for ABC, while the documentary Jackson hoped would vindicate him actually wound up serving as the catalyst to a second set of allegations.

Thomas Mesereau describes former DA Tom Sneddon - who tried to prosecute Jackson in 1993 and brought charges against him in 2003 - as being "obsessed to the point of absurdity". Paul Rodriguez, jury foreman in Jackson's trial, agrees. "He came across like he was just doing anything he could to pursuade us to look at things his way, regardless of the evidence," he says. "It was almost like he had a vendetta against him."

Criminal defence lawyer and celebrity trial expert Mickey Sherman adds:

"I think [the prosecution] got too emotionally invested in the case. I think Tom Sneddon seemed gleeful. Gleeful. He took a little too much pleasure in dishing out misery to Michael Jackson... There was such an eagerness to dish out some bad stuff to Michael Jackson that the credibility was, if not lost, certainly diminished."

Jones asserts that the media ignored the not guilty verdicts in Jackson's trial and continued to portray him as a predator because it made 'great headlines on the covers of rag papers'. Mesereau adds that the media was 'humiliated' by the verdicts because reporters had been predicting a conviction and 'almost salivating about him being hauled off to jail'. Jones concludes that the trial traumatised Jackson to such an extent that he was unable to sleep, and this is why he died of a propofol overdose last summer.


While early reviews have been unfair and inaccurate, this documentary is not without fault. For the uninitiated, it offers a tantalising glimpse of what was wrong with the prosecution's case against Jackson and the extent to which the media skewed its reporting on the trial. However, this documentary is not a definitive guide to the allegations against Jackson. The 2005 trial alone lasted four months and could warrant a six part TV series of its own. By condensing both rounds of allegations against Jackson - plus his death - into an hour-long show, programme makers have omitted a wealth of key information.

The 1993 case is all but skipped over. Claims made by Evan Chandler are stated as fact rather than conjecture and the ample evidence undermining the Chandler family's case is not mentioned at all.

The show also fails to mention the enormous legal reason behind the settlement of the civil suit in 1994. Tom Sneddon had so little evidence to support his case in 1993 that two separate grand juries refused to allow him to bring charges against Jackson. The upshot of this was that the civil trial wound up scheduled ahead of any potential criminal trial. This was a violation of Jackson's fifth amendment as it would severely undermine his right to a fair trial.

Holding the civil trial in advance of a criminal trial would give the prosecution unqualified access to Jackson's defense strategy. If Jackson cited an alibi in his civil trial, Sneddon could go back to the office and change the dates on the criminal charges. If Jackson called witnesses to corroborate his version of events, Sneddon could go back to his office and mould his case around their testimony. He could tailor his case exactly to the defense strategy, making it impossible for Jackson to win a criminal trial. The only way Jackson could guarantee himself a fair criminal trial was to make the civil trial go away.

The settlement agreement did not prevent the Chandler family from testifying in a criminal case. Jackson was prepared to fight the allegations in court but he was not prepared to forfeit his right to a fair criminal trial by wasting his defense on a civil suit. The Chandlers' decision not to testify in the criminal case was entirely their own and is perhaps the best indication of what they were really about.

None of this was mentioned in the show's discussion of the 1993 case.

When the second set of allegations rolled around in 2003, Sneddon repeatedly broke the law in his pursuit of Jackson. He breached the conditions of his own search warrant, illegally raided the office of a PI hired by Jackson's lawyer, breached a court-imposed gag order and stole defense documents from the home of a Jackson employee.

When Jackson's lawyer appeared on NBC and stated that the star had a 'concrete, iron-clad alibi' for the dates on the charge sheet, Sneddon shifted them by almost two weeks in time for the arraignment.

None of this is mentioned in tonight's show. Nor is there much discussion at all about the testimony presented in Jackson's trial. Each of the Arvizo family was caught in countless lies. They contradicted their own and each other's versions of events. They claimed to have been held captive at Neverland when records clearly showed that they'd entered and exited the ranch at will and had ample access to telephones while they were there. It was also revealed that the family had lied about sexual abuse in the past for monetary gain.

Elsewhere, former employees took the stand and claimed to have witnessed Jackson molesting Brett Barnes, Wade Robson and Macauley Culkin - only for all three of them to take the stand and tell the prosecution, in no uncertain terms, that they'd never been touched and they resented the implication. The prosecution was also unable to produce a single piece of evidence linking Jackson to their ill-conceived conspiracy charge. All of this - and much more - is omitted from tonight's documentary.

In brief, tonight's show suffers due to time constraints. Whilst it does include interesting commentary from experts like Thomas Mesereau and jurors Paul Rodriguez and Paulina Coccoz, and it will give non-fans an insight into Sneddon's questionable motives and tactics, it is simply impossible to condense the story behind the allegations against Jackson into a one-hour TV show. Aphrodite Jones herself wrote a 296 page book about the 2005 trial alone.

Although this documentary does not include all of the exculpatory evidence relating to the allegations against the King of Pop, it may inspire Jackson skeptics to re-evaluate their stance and perhaps intrigue them enough to seek out Jones's book, Michael Jackson Conspiracy, which contains far more information.

True Crime with Aphrodite Jones airs tonight at 10pm (ET) on Investigation Discovery.